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Ulster tune up for Champions Cup derby with bonus-point win over Kings

Ulster go second in Conference B with victory at Ravenhill.

Schalk Ferreira is tackled by Darren Cave and Stuart McCloskey.
Schalk Ferreira is tackled by Darren Cave and Stuart McCloskey.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Ulster 33

Southern Kings 19

Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium

ULSTER WILL HEAD into their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final with Leinster next week unbeaten in seven and off the back of a 33-19 victory over the Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium.

The bonus-point win, wrapped up just eight minutes after the restart, takes Ulster – who weren’t wholly convincing but did enough – into second in Conference B of the Guinness Pro14 and seven points clear of fourth-placed Edinburgh in the race for the play-offs.

Centre Stuart McCloskey was at his rampaging best for Ulster, grabbing a try in the win, while Rob Lyttle, Marcell Coetzee and Robert Baloucoune also crossed for the hosts as they continue their march towards the knockouts of the Pro14 for the first time since 2016.

They were aided late on by the dismissals of Kings duo Tertius Kruger and Alandre van Rooyen, who saw red and yellow cards respectively, as the South African side gave the Irish province a real scare as the game wound down.

Rob Lyttle scores a try despite the efforts of Bjorn Basson Rob Lyttle scores despite the efforts of Bjorn Basson. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There will be concern for head coach Dan McFarland ahead of next week’s quarter-final, however, as Louis Ludik, Marty Moore and Darren Cave all departed hurt and he will hope that the injuries sustained by all three are not as serious as they looked.

Early on it was clear to see where Ulster were going to gain the upper hand, with McCloskey and Coetzee leading the way with some thundering carries – the latter clearly delighted to be back on the field after several weeks out.

But it was the former who put Ulster ahead after just seven minutes, albeit with some fortune, centre McCloskey going around the outside of stricken team-mate Louis Ludik on the floor and holding off the combined tackle of Ulrich Beyers and Meli Rokoua to finish in the corner.

Ludik would not continue after that, and it was his replacement – Academy starlet Michael Lowry – who set up Ulster’s second for another young talent in Lyttle eight minutes later.

While it was those two who linked for the score itself, it was Rob Herring who created the field position for it with a lung-busting run off the back of a maul deep into Kings territory and, when the ball was sent wide, it was Lowry who wriggled through the tackle to set Lyttle over in the corner.

By this stage the atmosphere had relaxed into one that was confident of the final scoreline already, but the Kings had other ideas. Led from the front by fly-half Bader Pretorius, who seemed just as eager to carry the ball as he was to pass it, the visitors got on the scoreboard midway through the half.

It was winger Yaw Penxe who scored it, the winger set over in the corner by centre Rokoua with men over, but it was the forwards who made it, their relentless driving leading the Kings all the way from the halfway line deep into the Ulster 22 where the opportunity was seized upon.

Louis Ludik leaves the pitch injured Louis Ludik leaves the pitch injured. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Their second, however, was not so well worked. With the advantage from a maul in the corner, the ball went wide and centre Kruger tried to set Beyers away with a short pop pass. The fullback looked to have knocked it on and as all the Ulster defenders stopped, Beyers seized on the ball and dotted down.

On the field, only Beyers appealed for the try, and but for the intervention of the TMO then it would have passed everyone by. But upon further inspection, the ball had in fact come off the chest of Beyers before he re-gathered, meaning the try was good – and wholly avoidable from an Ulster perspective had they not switched off.

With the bit between their teeth, the Kings sensed blood, and had they scored a third try then the game may have gone another direction. As it was, Ulster were next on the board.

The maul provided the platform again, driving up to the line before being halted just short, but they didn’t have too long to wait for the score. Coetzee was next on the scene to drive at the line, and the former Springbok had the strength to get underneath the covering tackler and go over the line.

After the break, the extra point was quickly wrapped up in nine minutes. Once again it was the maul that afforded Ulster the opportunity to go wide – earning the advantage as it was hauled down on its way over the line – and, although it was Baloucoune who actually went over the line, in truth it could have been any one of the backline who surged over.

In the build-up, however, Ulster had nearly messed up the chance to get the try altogether, a phenomenal break from John Cooney – his first involvement since coming off the bench – not finished off when Darren Cave didn’t feed his man down the outside, and that resulted in the centre being brought off after shipping a heavy hit.

But just like in the first half, Ulster switched off whenever they seemingly had the game wrapped up. For the next 10 minutes they had to withstand a heavy Kings onslaught deep in their own territory, and after holding out for so long, they finally caved three minutes after the hour mark when Mike Willemse forged his way over.

Lloyd Linton shows Tertius Kruger a red card Referee Lloyd Linton shows Tertius Kruger a red card. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Any hopes of a comeback were quashed though when the visitors lost their composure and, as a result, two of their players. What was a TMO review on a high hit from Alandre van Rooyen on John Cooney – which saw the South African given a yellow card – then turned into a double review on Kruger for a no arms hit on Baloucoune.

The centre turned his shoulder into Baloucoune’s head – the decision was an easy one.

With two extra men, the result became a foregone conclusion, and when the maul finally went over the line instead of just setting up a try, it was game over. Hooker John Andrew was the man who came up grinning with the ball and Ulster will be grinning all the way to the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.

Ulster scorers:
Tries: McCloskey, Lyttle, Coetzee, Baloucoune, Andrew
Conversions: Burns [3], Cooney
Southern Kings scorers:
Tries: Penxe, Beyers, WillemseCons: Pretorius [2]

ULSTER: Louis Ludik (Michael Lowry 9); Robert Baloucoune, Darren Cave (Angus Kernohan 46), Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle; Billy Burns, David Shanahan (John Cooney 44); Andrew Warwick (Wiehahn Herbst 59), Rob Herring (John Andrew 74), Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 27); Alan O’Connor, Ian Nagle (Kieran Treadwell 54); Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Marcell Coetzee (Clive Ross 55).

SOUTHERN KINGS: Ulrich Beyers (Masixole Banda 56); Yaw Penxe, Meli Rokoua (Harlon Klaasen 65), Tertius Kruger, Bjorn Basson; Bader Pretorius, Stefan Ungerer (Rudi van Rooyen 58); Alulutho Tshakweni (Schalk Ferreira 40), Michael Willemse (Alandre van Rooyen 65), De-Jay Terblanche (Lupumlo Mguca 56); Andries van Schalkwyk, John-Charles Astle (Stephan Greeff 50); Henry Brown (Andisa Ntsila 56), Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm.

Referee: Lloyd Linton [SCO].

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